Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States and the number of cases worldwide is growing. In 27 of 51 international cancer registries, colon cancer cases increased between 1983 and 2002. This rise is more pronounced in areas that are advancing economically, such as countries in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia and South America. As residents enjoy growing economic prosperity, something else is growing at the same time: their waistlines, as they begin consuming a typical "western diet," which is high in fat and calories.

Only five percent of cancers are due to hereditary factors. Lifestyle choices, including eating a diet high in calories and fat and not getting enough exercise, are to blame for many cancers. Both are causing obesity rates to climb. Colon cancer risk in particular is linked to obesity and diet. In fact, a recent study reported by the American Institute for Cancer Research stated that 45 percent of colon cancer cases are preventable through diet, activity and maintaining a healthy weight.

Colon cancer occurs more frequently in obese individuals than those who are at a healthy weight. Men with a high body mass index (BMI) have a higher incidence of colon cancer. Researchers believe this is because men store their fat in the abdomen, which is a significant risk factor for colon cancer.

Why Diet Matters

Study after study shows that people who eat primarily plant-based foods and diets that are high in fresh fruits and vegetables are at reduced risk for chronic disease and certain types of cancer, including colon cancer. People who consume a typical western diet, described as one high in refined grains, high-fat dairy foods, red meat, French fries and desserts, are not just at risk for developing colon cancer. They also have a substantial increase in risk for recurrence of, and death from, colon cancer. Researchers have established a clear link between eating red or processed meats with an increased risk for colorectal (and lung) cancer.

Plant-based foods contain phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals that protective or help prevent against disease. There is no single cancer-prevention food, but experts believe that the right combination of foods in a plant-based diet contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that interact to protect us against cancer. A diet high in fruits and vegetables also helps us maintain a healthy weight, which prevents obesity. Nutritionists recommend consuming five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.